• Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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BusinessDay

The listening pope is on his way here

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Once word got out that Pope Francis I is on his way to Abuja, Nigeria for the World Economic Forum on Africa, the scramble by other world leaders to sign on has become frenetic.  Virtually, all the G-7 leaders are coming just to shaft Vladimir Putin the President of Russia for invading Crimea and posing a very serious threat to the rest of Ukraine.  They have refused to show up for the G-8 meeting scheduled to hold from 4th to 5th June 2014 in Sochi, Russia where the winter Olympic Games were recently concluded.

Barack Obama (United States of America); David Cameron (Great Britain); Angela Merkel (Germany); Stephen Harper (Canada);  Francois Hollande (France);  Matteo Renzi (Italy);  and Shinzo Abe (Japan) have declared their passion for Africa and are determined to follow the lead provided by the Holy Father who has no Army, Navy nor Air Force.    The Pontiff’s only weapons are his faith and his Bible.  As for Russia, Vladimir Putin is not waiting to be invited.   Being a former KGB officer, he has decided to “boycott” the G7 by showing up in Abuja.  It has become a game of political chess being played according to the rules of poker.

While in Nigeria, the Pope and the other world leaders are determined to get to the root of the over domination of the accountancy profession by only four firms – “The Big Four”.

Ironically, as a pre-emptive strike, President Goodluck Jonathan has visited Pope Francis I in the most sacred sanctum of the Vatican.

The Holy Father was moved by the spirit to launch his own pre-emptive strike by putting his own house (the Vatican) in order before venturing further afield into the murky and complex matter of political accountability, financial transparency and corporate governance.   Hence, last Saturday Pope Francis launched the campaign to clean up the financial affairs of the Vatican by appointing eight cardinals and seven lay financial professionals from around the world to serve on a new Council for the Economy, which will oversee the Secretariat for the Economy created by the Holy Father towards the end of February 2014 and headed by Cardinal George Pell who is an Australian.    What is truly remarkable is that the membership of the council is spread among twelve nations.    There are only two Italians and one American – Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and vice-president of the US bishops’ conference.

For the records, the “Seventy Senior Elders” (chartered accountants) can claim some credit for the zeal with which the Holy Father is pursuing his reform agenda at the Vatican.   We started by prodding the last pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI after whose retirement we zeroed in on the new Pope.    We are truly delighted that the Council’s most senior lay member is Joseph F.X. Zahra who started off as Director of Malta’s Central Bank and proceeded to serve on the board of various international organization.   He has established a well earned reputation for integrity and diligence.   The Holy Father himself declared on CNN that his main focus are not the trappings of office but on evangelization and pastoral activities which will be driven by genuine transformation of the spirit of the church.

Simultaneously, the pontiff is determined to institutionalize transparency and checks and balances in the way the Vatican functions.  Most emphatically, Pope Francis I wants to free up resources to serve the poor, the downtrodden, the hopeless and the helpless.   That is precisely why he is heading for Abuja.   Transformation and spiritual cleansing are right at the top of the Holy Father’s agenda.

Ahead of the World Economic Forum on Africa, all the delegates (as well as those who were in Davos) have been provided with the following extract from the interview Joseph F.X. Zahra granted to Globe newspaper (John Allen),  Al Jazeera and BBC (Zainab Badawi’s Hardtalk):

Globe: In layman’s terms, what’s the role of the new Council for the Economy?

Zahra:    It’s part of a broad reform which has three components.   The first is the new Secretariat for the Economy, which has been put on the same level as the Secretariat of State.  [Note:  By tradition, the Secretariat of State is the most powerful department in the Vatican.]  It will be responsible for overseeing all the Vatican’s economic functions, including finances, procurement, human resources and so on.

The second is the Council for the Economy, which is not merely a consultative body.   It has authority over the new secretariat and other economic departments.  All annual budgets and financial statements will have to be approved by it.    This is the first time at such a high level there’s been a council in which cardinals and laity are full members with the same voting rights.

The third element is the Auditor General, who will be appointed by the Pope and who will report directly to him.    The auditor general will conduct annual reviews of accounts, but also has the authority to carry out special investigations if they are required.

Bishops have long complained that it’s impossible to get a straight answer from the Vatican about how much money it actually has.    One year from now, will you know the answer?

That’s the idea, to be in a much stronger position to get the full picture of the Vatican’s financial situation.  It’s a new venture and I can’t give any guarantees, but this is absolutely one of the reasons the council was created.

Once you have the information, will you make it public?

The pope wants transparency.  We have to meet and discuss what we’re going to do, but it’s reasonable to explain that whatever’s released will have more detail than the current annual financial statement.

Can you promise that once this system is up and running, there won’t be any more scandals?

In addition to  transparency, we’ll also have checks and balances.    In the business world we call it the “four eyes approach.”   We’re building a system of controls that will ensure these scandals never happen again.

J.K Randle